Having gone to such great lengths to identify himself with Israel, and having taken such great pains to effectively insert himself into the public consciousness of the narrative of Israel’s defining event, David then makes quite a bold leap. We take note of this leap in the context of what it was that would have been crossing the minds of the hearers and readers of this song, in the wake of what has already been said.
By way of review, we acknowledge that David has called to mind the God of the exodus (2 Samuel 22:2-3). He has spoken of calling to the Lord, as did Israel in Egypt, with the congruent hearing and deliverance that followed (22:4). With the language of death and distress, and yet another plaintive calling (22:5-7), he has reiterated his recognition of the God of the exodus, just as we saw the multiplied references to God hearing His people in Exodus. By referencing the heaving and shaking of the earth, the trembling of the sky, the Lord’s anger, smoke and fire, and fiery coals (22:8-9), he has effectively brought the plagues to remembrance. Mention of the descent of the sky and clouds at the feet of the Lord (22:10) have called Mount Sinai to memory. Talk of wings (22:11) reminds the people of the Lord’s carrying Israel out of Egypt as if on the wings of an eagle and bringing them to His mountain (Exodus 19:4), which was spoken by the Lord, to Moses, at Mount Sinai. A reference to clouds and brightness and fire (22:12-13) produces memories of being closed in at the edge of the sea, with Egypt’s army ready to attack. Then, of course, David speaks of the parting of the waters in the face of certain annihilation, when he speaks of the depths of the sea being exposed and the inner regions of the world being uncovered by the breath of the Almighty (22:16).
Having roused the nationalistic passions of those that would be exposed to this song, we then saw that David took the step of identifying himself with Israel, and as Israel, in his personal experience of God’s power, by a direct insertion of himself (so to speak) into the sea that had been opened up for God’s people to cross (22:17-19). It is following this that we meet up with David’s bold leap. Because David has recounted Israel’s experience in Egypt, the crying out, the plagues, the physical exodus, the cloud and the fire, the dry-ground crossing, the destruction of Egypt’s army, the deliverance towards the promised land, God’s presence at Sinai, and God’s personal act of delivering His people to Sinai (eagle’s wings), the very next thing that is going to be crossing the mind of the people is the Lord’s giving of the Ten Commandments, along with the incident of the golden calf. It seems to be relatively clear that David has this in mind; and bearing in mind that he has positioned himself as Israel (he may have been helped along in thinking this way because he too has a special covenant with God), he goes on to say, “The Lord repaid me for my godly deeds; He rewarded me for my blameless behavior. For I have obeyed the Lord’s commands; I have not rebelled against my God. For I am aware of all His regulations, and I do not reject His rules. I was blameless before Him; I kept myself from sinning. The Lord rewarded me for my godly deeds; He took notice of my blameless behavior. You prove to be loyal to one who is faithful; You prove to be trustworthy to one who is innocent” (22:21-26).
Is this not bold? As we consider the natural train of thought that would have been expected based on what had led up to this point, this is quite the surprising turn of events, requiring quite a bit of mental contortions on the part of the hearer or reader. This is especially so if David has indeed made the effort to identify himself as Israel. With these words, David makes a clean break with Israelite history, setting up a surprising contrast and pattern of thoughts with which he desired to be associated. Most assuredly, this was not to be said of Israel in the context of the historical narrative that David has been offering in the course of his song. According to the historical narrative, it is precisely at this point that Israel stepped back from godly deeds and entered into behavior that was far from blameless, disregarding the Lord’s commands and rebelling against their God and against Moses. In all honesty, with the rubric of identification employed to this point, David should have here recounted his many failures, entering into self-abasement, rather than traveling the path of self-honor. The situation with the golden calf is a clear instance of a rejection of the Lord’s regulations and rules for His covenant people, and represented the pinnacle of sin into which they could fall. It was a display of paramount disloyalty and unfaithfulness, and from the Lord’s reaction, which was a desire to destroy the people and make a new people out of Moses (Exodus 32:10), they stood at a great distance from a state of innocence. So this is bold indeed, for knowing what we know about David, such words should have been far from his lips, and such thoughts should have been far from his mind.
With these words of godliness, blamelessness, consummate faith and innocence, David is actually rehearsing what it was that God had intended for and desired from His people, though he himself fell far short of this goal. Naturally, there is only one individual that could truly and rightly speak these words as the embodiment of Israel. This self-description would be taken up by the one known as the “Son of David,” who would also be the physical embodiment of Israel’s God, when He would take it upon Himself to do for the world, through Jesus (the representative of Israel) what had been purposed first for Adam, for Abraham, and then for Israel. Ultimately, He would carry out that purpose and mission through His manifestation, by the Spirit, through His church that would be assembled and sent into the world through the power of the Gospel.